Autophagy is a cellular process that is highly conserved among eukaryotes and permits the degradation of cellular material. Autophagy is involved in multiple survival-promoting processes. It not only facilitates the maintenance of cell homeostasis by degrading long-lived proteins and damaged organelles, but it also plays a role in cell differentiation and cell development. Equally important is its function for survival in stress-related conditions such as recycling of proteins and organelles during nutrient starvation. Protozoan parasites have complex life cycles and face dramatically changing environmental conditions; whether autophagy represents a critical coping mechanism throughout these changes remains poorly documented. To investigate this in Toxoplasma gondii, we have used TgAtg8 as an autophagosome marker and showed that autophagy and the associated cellular machinery are present and functional in the parasite. In extracellular T. gondii tachyzoites, autophagosomes were induced in response to amino acid starvation, but they could also be observed in culture during the normal intracellular development of the parasites. Moreover, we generated a conditional T. gondii mutant lacking the orthologue of Atg3, a key autophagy protein. TgAtg3-depleted parasites were unable to regulate the conjugation of TgAtg8 to the autophagosomal membrane. The mutant parasites also exhibited a pronounced fragmentation of their mitochondrion and a drastic growth phenotype. Overall, our results show that TgAtg3-dependent autophagy might be regulating mitochondrial homeostasis during cell division and is essential for the normal development of T. gondii tachyzoites. © 2011 Besteiro et al.
Besteiro, S., Brooks, C. F., Striepen, B., & Dubremetz, J. F. (2011). Autophagy protein Atg3 is essential for maintaining mitochondrial integrity and for normal intracellular development of toxoplasma gondii tachyzoites. PLoS Pathogens, 7(12). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1002416